SAN FRANCISCO – The heavyweight marquee grouping of the U.S. Open on Thursday morning looked more like a Wednesday pro-am. Playing the role of the high handicappers were the last two Masters Tournament champions.
While Tiger Woods cruised along the back 10 at the Olympic Club with a steady dose of surgical golf that looked very familiar, partners Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson flailed away like a couple of amateurs.
Mickelson wasted no time getting off on the wrong foot. His opening drive on the ninth hole hooked into the trees and never came down. He had to make the long, lonely trudge back up the steep hill to the tee box and start over hitting his third shot. A brilliant bogey save made him smile.
But that didn’t last. Mickelson seemed intent on illustrating all the different ways to make bogey. After showing the hardest lost-ball version, he went for the shank/chunk combo on 10, the classic three-putt on 11, the short-side pitch on 14 and the behind-the-tree scramble on 16.
For good measure, he added a disappointing par on the short par-5 17th after having to get three trash receptacles removed so he could punch back up to the green.
On the 14th hole, Mickelson tossed a ball to a fan he hit with his drive. Another fan hollered, “You can hit me next,” to which a third responded “Go stand in the fairway.” Mickelson chuckled at the dig.
Watson, meanwhile, seemed even more unsettled – if that’s possible. The rusty Masters chance advanced his second shot on the first hole only 20 yards and was missing his driver to the right and left. Even after finally hitting his first fairway on the 670-yard 16th hole, Watson hit the driver again off the deck and pulled it in the left rough to set up another bogey.
After making birdie on 17, Watson doubled the 18th and seemed to be going through the motions.
Then there was Tiger, whose even-par opening 10 holes didn’t do justice to the quality of shots he was hitting. Woods made only one mistake on the back side, mis-clubbing his approach on 14. Unlike his partners, Woods kept driver in the bag on after hitting the first two fairways and went with stinger irons and a 3-wood on 17. His lag putting left him no stressful par saves.